Updated: Feb 27
To Aaron's credit, he didn't even laugh when he saw me naked on the bed doin' the Happy Baby. Not even a flirty "Lookin' for me?" I'm not sure even a lithsome twenty-something would look good doing a Happy Baby, but a naked sixty-one year old with her ankles in the air? Definitely not my best side.
We'd walked way too far today. A half hour from the highway with our heavy packs to our Airbnb then for a few hours wandering to and around this, the next city on our journey. Barely able to stand to wash the dust off, I collapsed naked on to the bed.
"I'm not sure I can keep this up," I said to Aaron as I grabbed my ankles and pulled my legs back. hoping it would relieve the ache in my hips.
We were in Querétaro at the home of Yolanda, her son, and an uncle, our Airbnb hosts. We hadn't meant to visit this city but someone had recommended the place as having 'super cool vibes' and a great aqueduct. And so we came.
"Bienvenidos," the family had said, smiling widely through their screen door when we'd arrived.
"Es perfecta," I said, scanning the bright, clean room, the small coffee maker and tiny fridge. It was perfect. It was even more perfect when I threw myself on to the bed and actually sunk a centimetre or so. Relative to the mattresses we'd been on thus far, this bed was a dream.
And then we went for food. As always, I'll start with food. Because that might be the only reason my son reads my blogs...
Around the corner from our home, we found Ramen Chino.
We looked at the lineup.
"Probably means good food," I said to Aaron in a hopeful voice. He nodded. We joined the line. And...oh my god. So worth the wait.
That ramen with little riblets floating in a spicy broth, filled with thin noodles and veggies, made my tastebuds sing. We went again the next night and ordered Pollo Agridulce, little nuggets of chicken sauced and spiced up into a golden-orange dish of sunshine. Don't miss this place, I tell you.
The street food scene here was great. Mexico's definitely more expensive than I remember it being, but not so on the street and in the local markets.
I ate my first tamale. From a little girl at a street cart who dug it out of a big pot that looked like it had cooked up tamales since her great-grandmother's time. It was a tamale con rajas (ra-has) – moist cornmeal packed with roasted peppers, tomato, onion and spice, steamed in a cornhusk. Dee-lish-us.
And we found crispy tostadas with beans, chicken and cheese, and quesadillas filled with a choice of pretty squash flowers (flor de calabaza), chorizo, chicken and more. Two each and it cost us $3.
Occasionally, we stopped eating and went and saw things.
Museo Regional de Querétaro - a diverse display that led us from the pre-hispanic era (pre-colonialism), through the conquest and into the present. Most interesting to me were the homespun clothing, toys and traditional ware that were and are still used in indigenous peoples' daily lives. All housed in a spectacular 16th century convent.
Museo de Arte de Querétaro was also a former convent and even more lovely than the last.
Inside the art museum, we discovered a real live artist! Painting a medieval scene as a curious crowd gathered around him.
His wife called me over to explain in English. “My husband makes several sketches before he makes the final painting." She pointed to several one at his feet, another on an easel beside him, explaining how each sketch got progressively complex. I drool a little at the one he's added sexy muscles and six-packs to. "He's researched the era extensively," she says, "to be able to depict the mindset of people in this era. she said.
"It can take a year to finish a painting," she said. Wow. I wonder if all painters create in levels like this. Seems like a lot of extra work to me.
Bell’s Hill – Remember Maximillian? The young Emperor who lived in Castillo Chapultapec, that beautiful castle overlooking all Mexico City that I showed you pictures of in my 1st blog? History can be boring, but for some reason, this guy just grabbed my attention. Maybe because he was so young, just 31 when he became Mexico's leader, with an even younger wife, both of whom were so keen on helping the poorest of the people. Well, his story didn't end in Mexico City, I discovered. It ended here in Querétaro. On Bell's Hill.
Apparently, Max discovered that many of the populace didn't want him as their Emperor. That many powerful people (and the USA) preferred Benito Juarez who was more sympathetic to their cause. Max considered stepping down. If he wasn’t wanted, why stay? Because I want you to, his wife said. She liked their grand life in their castle on the hill. And his mom wasn't any more sympathetic; she wrote to Max telling him to stay and fight. That it was better to die than to leave as a coward! Can you imagine? A mom saying that to her boy? Anyways, despite his misgivings, Max stayed. Bad idea.
I don't know...live happily ever after as a coward or shot dead by a firing squad on Bell's Hill at age 34? Not a tough choice as far as I'm concerned.
Aqueduct - Speeding by on a bus, we didn't get a good luck at this 28-metre-high, more-than-a-kilometre-long marvel that had been built in the 1700s to bring water from the surrounding hills after Querétaro's textile industry polluted the city's water, but, even with just a quick glance, it was mighty impressive.
PEÑA DE BERNAL - DAY TRIP
This magical town is a must-do, easy by local bus from the main terminal.
It was a beautiful, quiet morning when we wandered into the tiny plaza of this small pueblo. All we saw milling around the pretty church were pigeons, early-rising locals, and a pretty teenage girl selling hot drinks that I'm sure were made from goat’s milk, it was that kind of place. We sat on a park bench, shivering in the still-chilly morning, sipping our hot strawberry and chocolate drinks and looking up at the Peña.
Up we walked toward the mountain that towered above the village. Maybe we'd climb it, or...maybe we'd just go a little closer to get a better look. My feet weren’t sure yet. On the way up, we met Maria de Jesus, on her way to sell quartz crystals to tourists, she told me. I could have tucked her under my chin she was that small.
"Gracias," I said when she left us at a trail and pointed to the ticket booth 200 metres above. "Buena suerte," I said, wishing her luck with her sales.
“We are only going to climb half-way,” I told the boy there, having decided we may as well make an effort to climb it. “We’re old," I said, laughing as I did. "Can we pay just half?”
He laughed and asked us how old we were.
“Sesenta y una,” I said. Sixty-one.
“It’s free for you,” he said. Sweet. We hadn't seen seniors' discounts since Mexico City. The ONLY good thing about growing old. With smiles on our faces (we so love getting things for free!), we looked up at the mountain. It was frickin' huge.
I glanced at the restaurant beside the ticket booth. I should pee before we climb, I thought.
"Diez pesos," the waiter told me when I asked to use the bathroom. Ten pesos! To pee?
"Si tengo un cafe, es libre?" I asked him, asking if the bathroom was free if I bought a coffee.
It was. And through my frugality, I discovered a lovely traditional treasure.
“Es té? I asked after tasting the sweet, cinnamony hot drink, wondering if he’d given me tea instead of coffee.
“No, es café de olla,” he answered. Cafe de what? Well, apparently, back in the days of the Mexican revolution in the early 1900s, women created a concoction of ground coffee, sugar and cinnamon and served it from big clay pots to their soldiers to give them energy. Café de olla (cafay day oya) literally meant 'coffee from a clay pot' which was what it was still served in.
Hot and delicious, it was the perfect pre-ascent beverage. After draining the last dregs, I was ready to go.
It was a steady climb with some tricky spots where the boulders were worn smooth. I was was glad the soles of my sandals had good tread and for the cable secured up the steep sections to pull myself up by.
I shook my head though, so frustrated. I’d never climbed so slowly, so cautiously, squatting before I would jump down from ledges. What the hell have I become? Where was the girl who bounded from boulder to boulder like a mountain goat? She was gone, apparently, replaced by a cautious sloth.
What Else To Do in Bernal
Back at the bottom, we met a massive crowd on their way to climb the mountain.
“Holy crap. Thank god we came early!” I said to Aaron as we reached the tiny plaza where we'd sipped hot drinks with the pigeons, not a sound to be heard. Now, it was jam-packed with people and noise, tour operators offering wine and cheese tours, shots of creamy mescale, noisy tourists milling around tables covered with Bernal's famous cheesecake and pan de queso (sweet cheese-filled buns). It was nuts. We scrammed, heading away from the centre.
Down a quiet side street, we found two women in long skirts and aprons slapping cornmeal into patties and throwing them on a grill in a tiny hole-in-the-wall.
“Quiere gorditas?” they asked as we stopped to see what they were cooking. "Si!" Don’t know what it is, but yeah, we want some. But where to sit? The only table was full of people.
"Adelante!" one woman said, waving us in, shoving a pile of cooking paraphernalia off a small table and pulling two chairs up to it. Two fat hollowed out corn tortillas, warm and crispy and stuffed with spicy, saucy chicken were slid in front of us the next moment. So that was a gordito. Very tasty. And...the 'we've been here for a hundred years, and we'll be here for a hundred more' ambiance? I loved it.
Wandering further, up and down quiet streets bursting with the crimson blooms of bougainvillea, we reveled in the quiet, congratulating ourselves for escaping the chaos. Then, a more welcome noise. Bells, ringing in the distance, a deep, rich tone. We followed the sound.
At the top of the street, on the roof of a small chapel, we found our bells.
Four men were dancing with them, jumping to pull them down with their weight, letting them swing up, jumping again to pull them down. DING, DONG...DING, DONG went the bells.
Below, the door of the church opened and a small procession of locals exited with a heavy-looking ode-to-Jesus on their shoulders. And, to the sound of the bells, off went Jesus on the shoulders of His followers out of the church yard and to who knows where.
My legs started to tire again. It was time to head back to Querétaro. I don’t even remember falling asleep, but the next morning I woke, feeling as if I’d been in a car crash, aching all over and barely able to move my limbs. Wow, I knew I'd worked hard to climb the mountain, but it hadn’t felt that difficult. Oh, getting old is so fun.
With a big hug from Yolanda, we said goodbye to this town we hadn't meant to visit but were happy that we had.
We were hitchhiking to Orizaba, a city in the Province of Veracruz, Mexico's 'most dangerous province' we'd read and were ignoring. No. We weren't really hitchhiking. We were going via BlaBla Car, the Mexico rideshare service I told you about earlier.
Our driver's name was Jesus.
Gotta be safe with a guy named that! Don'tcha think?
Stay tuned to find out.
Happy travels everyone.